Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Laptop Update

Tomorrow we will be meeting with the principal at Lake Trafford Elementary School. Hopefully, he'll match us with a teacher who will help us in the pilots this summer, and who will be the resident Immokalee laptop specialist, on hand to coach other teachers in Immokalee going forward.

So far, here is what we have:

* Classes will be held at Beth El Assembly of God. The kids will meet 3 times a week, one hour each time, throughout the summer. There will be 2 pilots running simultaneously, each with 21 kids - one group from RCMA, the other from Lake Trafford. All are going into 4th grade. There will be 3 teachers who will be certified teacher-trainers for this program by the time the pilot ends.

* The "XO" laptops are made by OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), a nonprofit started by professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab. They are child-sized, drop-proof, waterproof, dust-proof, have Wi-Fi that is four times better than anything we adults can buy for ourselves, and they have the only screen in existence that works well in direct sunlight. Again, we adults just can't buy that, no matter what we're willing to pay. They come with a still- and video-camera. They are theft-proof (they turn off when stolen), and even if they aren't connected to the Internet, they still instantly "mesh:" they recognize when another XO is within range, and hook up to it automatically, making collaboration a breeze. Because OLPC is a nonprofit, the computers themselves are only $220 each, including shipping. Including the training, this program costs $500 per child.

* The software (or "courseware," as it's called) that the kids will be using in class has been created by an organization out of Pennsylvania called Waveplace Foundation ( I am on the board of directors. The founder and president of Waveplace, Tim Falconer, will be leading the first week of teacher-training. That is 30+ intensive hours, most of which are the 3 teachers and Tim alone, going through the entire course that the kids will be taking this summer.

* Waveplace courseware is designed to teach the kids computer skills, including writing code, graphic design, animation, and digital story-telling, among other things. The children will even be using high school geometry - yes, these are 4th graders. Waveplace lets the kids explore and learn; the teachers help them along. Rather than "drill and kill" through rote memorization, kids have fun learning. They stay engaged this way. I've seen it in action. Let me tell you, it's amazing.

* We have had two previous pilots, one on St. John (US Virgin Islands), the other in Haiti. Results were great both times, though we're confident the kids in Immokalee will do even better with their projects because of the ground laid by those first two pilots.

* Once our two pilots are done, we're ready to roll out courses to as many students as we can raise funds for. Our first priority is to bring Waveplace training and OLPC computers to all of the 4th graders in Immokalee; ultimately, every kid from kindergarten through eighth grade will go through this program and have a computer of their own, but that is going to take some serious fund raising. We will also be bringing the same opportunity to the other Title I (poor) schools throughout South Florida, as funds permit.

* Our goal is to be done within ten years. Right now, no kids have this training and these computers. Ten years from now - 2018 - every single kid in South Florida will. That is what we are doing.

Here are the organizations and people involved:

* Waveplace Foundation/Tim Falconer.

* OLPC. The computer its self is called the XO.

* One-by-One Leadership Foundation of SWFL. This is a faith-based organization that has spearheaded our fundraising, brought key players to the table... John Lawson, the executive director, is one of the true heroes of this story.

* - that's my wife Jane and me, and our partner/technology guru Michael Junkroski, owner of on Marco. I'm on the board of Waveplace. I put Tim and John together. We are running the pilots. Jane is one of the three teacher-trainers, and will manage the other teacher-trainers.

* Laptop South Florida. This is the nonprofit that we are forming to run local efforts here in this region. One-by-One is "giving birth" to our 501(c)3, i.e. helping us get established with the state and the IRS. I am building the board.

* Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA)'s Community School - the kids from our first pilot are coming from there.

* The Summer Migrant Program, headed up by Earl Wiggins - the kids from the second pilot are being funded through this project.

Other items of interest:

* There are hundreds of thousands of OLPC computers being used in third-world countries as we speak. Peru and Mexico are leading the movement with 600,000 in use or ordered.

* Our pilot begins Monday, June 9th. WGCU and NPR are both sending reporters to cover this story.

* We will have a presence at the Immokalee Kids Games on Saturday, June 14.